Remote Desktop--A Cure for the PC Shuffle

Given the nature of my job, I spend a lot of time in email, lots and lots of email. I average about 5000 messages a week, spread across 10 different email accounts. Because I subscribe to several mailing lists and many technology newsletters, I use two different email applications and a variety of rules, filters, and antispam tools to keep the email manageable and separate the wheat from the chaff.

One challenge I continually face is moving between computers. Although I have a notebook that could be a capable desktop replacement, I enjoy my desktop's high resolution (2048 x 1536, 32-bit) too much to settle for the lower resolution of my notebook (1600 x 1050, 32-bit), even if I use two monitors. The ability to keep multiple open documents full-sized on the screen is just too useful. And frankly, I hate having to do any extended writing on the notebook keyboard. I realize I could just add a real keyboard and mouse, but then I'd have to make room on an already crowded desk (two computers and three monitors used daily) for yet another console setup.

Since I'm not willing to use the notebook all the time, I must move the data contained within both email applications back and forth between the two computers. Because I need the historical data contained in the email and its attachments, I have to move all of the data in my email data stores. The PST file alone is close to 600MB, and the various data files used by Eudora, plus its attachment directories, are about the same size.

Every time I switch from my desktop to my notebook, then, I have to migrate more than a gigabyte of data. This process recently became a bottleneck when I made a number of short business trips. The trips were long enough that I had to take my email with me, and during the spaces between the trips I did a lot of work on my desktop. While I prepared to migrate the data between computers once again, the solution finally struck me. Sometimes it's tough to see the forest for the trees, as it were.

Because I use Windows XP on my desktop and notebook, the simplest thing for me to do was to configure the notebook to allow Remote Desktop sessions. (To configure Remote Desktop, open the System Properties Control Panel applet, select the Remote Tab, and in the Remote Desktop box enable the "Allow users to connect remotely to this computer" check box.) I didn't worry about anyone else gaining access to my notebook because when you configure Remote Desktop you can specify which users you want to let connect to the computer via Remote Access. Furthermore, the notebook is covered by the same firewall protection enjoyed by the other computers on my office network.

Configuring an RDP session on my primary desktop lets me open a 1280 x 1024 window to the remote notebook. I leave my two email applications running on the notebook 24 x 7 and haven't had any problems accessing email.

Running Remote Desktop on my notebook provides an additional benefit. I tend to play with software I'm considering for review on my desktop computer. I've been known to crash this system on more than one occasion because of this activity, and a corrupted PST file from Outlook getting killed in the crash is more than just a remote possibility. With my email running on another computer that does nothing but email, I've managed to add another buffer to protect myself from myself.

A simple solution to a simple problem. Sometimes it's just that easy.

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